Content Calendars for Artists

Quick, what are you writing about on your blog next week? Next month? Next year?

And your social media channels? What will you be saying on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn?

That’s where an editorial calendar or a content calendar comes in handy. It’s a way of planning ahead for what you are going to be doing content-wise in the future.

It’s hot stuff in the blogging world right now, but it really is not all that new. Magazines and newspapers have been doing it for hundreds of years.

If it sounds overwhelming or complicated, don’t freak out about it. Let me break it down for you.

All a content calendar is is just a calendar that indicates what kind of content will be published and when. (You can tweet that)

For example, Time magazine has for many years published an annual “Person of the Year” issue. Pretty much every magazine out there has at least one annual issue. With graphic design magazines such as Communication Arts, pretty much every issue is an annual issue devoted to a particular thing, such as regional design, international design, print design, web design, small firms, in-house departments, photography, illustration, etc.

So how can you apply this to your own blog?

The first thing you can do is look at all the different types of content you create on your blog. You can take a sort of newspaper or magazine column approach, where every so often a particular topic or theme or format appears. Or run with a series and know that next month, you will be writing along a particular theme.

Let’s look at some formats you can try.

Examining various types of articles you can write or talk about is a great place to start. Figure out what you have to say, and build a structure around it.

Question and Answer

The advice column has been popular in newspapers for years. People love this format. A variation of the advice column is the Q & A or question & answer format. This can be a regular feature of your blog or podcast, or you could start something based on this format alone.

In fact, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income did just that: he started an entirely new podcast called “Ask Pat” that is dedicated to questions about online business. People call in with questions and he spends 8 – 10 minutes answering their questions about internet business, followed by an inspirational quote.

So on your blog you could have a regular feature based around this Q & A structure.

Art business coach Alyson Stanfield uses a variation on this with a weekly feature called “Deep Thought Thursday.” Every Thursday she poses a question or an idea and lets her audience discuss it.

The post itself is really short: a paragraph or so posing a situation, followed by “What do you think?” There is a lot of discussion because it’s often a topic artists are very passionate about and they have a lot to say about it.

So think about working format like that into your regular blogging: pick a day of the week and work a Q & A or “deep thought” format into your schedule.

Interviews

Photo Credit: pasukaru76 via Compfight cc

The interview or dialogue format works really well, too, especially when you are running a podcast. Sometimes people may feel like they are being lectured to or preached at when listening to a monologue. If you’re monologuing, you better be entertaining or otherwise compelling. Find a way to break it up with pictures in text or music on a podcast. My friend Jeff Goins splits up sections of his podcast The Portfolio Life with little guitar riffs. Of course, This American Life is famous for doing that in between its three acts.

Tools

Image Source

We are naturally nosy. Er, I mean, curiousWe love looking at others’ toolboxes. How do you do what you do? Why do you do it? People love to learn how “the pros” do it. Blog about your favorite brushes, clay, spray paint nozzle tips, sewing machines. Why do you prefer those tools? Plus, if you’re savvy about making money with your blog, you can link to the tools or gear you’re talking about and earn a small commission on sales.

The Calendar on Your Wall

So we’ve looked at some content types that you can use as you plan ahead what you will put on your site.

Next, let’s look at the actual calendar for inspiration. There’s plenty to talk about.

Upcoming local events

You can report on things that are coming up soon in your area. For example, every Friday afternoon I get an email from Nashville Arts Magazine listing 5 or 6 things happening on the Nashville Arts scene this coming weekend. I might see something like…

  • One gallery has a show opening tonight, and it features three artists working for social justice. All proceeds go toward their cause.
  • On Saturday, there’s a family event at a certain park. It has jugglers! The kids would love it.
  • The indie theatre has a matinee on Sunday, and it’s a show that has been getting great reviews. Maybe we can get the grandparents to watch the kids and we can go.
And so forth. It’s a great little service and has inspired me to get out and do something on the weekend, especially the First Saturday Art Crawl.

National or global art events

Every October the London Frieze Art Fair happens. And every December, Art Basel Miami Beach takes over the city. The weather is nice when it is cold everywhere else, and there is lots to do even if you don’t buy a ticket to the actual event. Write up your thoughts on what is going on even if you aren’t there — there is plenty of actual coverage you can piggyback on.

Then there are the biennials — events that happen every 2 years such as the Whitney and Venice Biennials. Maybe save up for it and write about your trip.

You don’t have to piggyback on the big art events, either. You can find a way to do that with big sports events everyone knows about such as The Super Bowl, The World Series, FIFA World Cup, etc.

Seasons

Fall just started where I live, and the kids have been in school over a month. If that’s the case for you, you can refer to it on your blog directly or in passing remarks:
I’m in the studio, the kids are back in school, and seeing yellow school buses has inspired me to experiment with the color yellow.
It speaks to your personality and shows you’re an actual person, not just an art-making machine. Maybe you are an art-making machine but it shows you have a life outside your art and that you’re aware of the world around you. It makes you more relatable.

Holidays

This is where editorial/content and marketing calendars come together: do marketing based on holidays and blog about it as well. In the U.S. we celebrate Thanksgiving in November. You can write about the things you’re thankful for, and give all customers this special offer if they place an order between November 1 and 30.

Photo credit: Natasha Mileshina via Compfight cc

In January, everyone’s mind is on new commitments and renewal especially after a month or two of over-eating and over-partying.

The past few years every January I’ve blogged about my words of the year — one-to-three words that are a theme or mantra for the upcoming year.

The only thing I advise against is posting a “My Top Ten Posts This Year” kind of post at the end of the year. Yes, I’ve done this before, but now I feel like it seems overdone and self-serving. “Look at these wonderful things I did this past year!”

While I think it is good to celebrate your accomplishments, don’t dwell on them (or your failures, either). Rather, it might be better to write about the top ten things you learned this past year.

Remember, the internet gets quiet in December so you might want to make it a light month content-wise, and prepare some killer posts for January while everyone is on vacation. You gotta hustle!

Setting Up Your Calendar

If you’re still with me, here’s your chance to plan how to set up your own calendar.

Recently I saw a nifty graphic on the Buffer.app blog where it showed a content calendar using graphic symbols for various content types on different days.

You can do something similar. You’re a visual person — and these graphics can take on a whole new dynamic since for you, you can extrapolate a number of ideas from just one visual. That’s the beauty (and the curse) of a visual mind: just one image can fire the imagination to go hundreds of directions. The visual is a cue for what to talk about on your blog.

You can set your icons at regular intervals, but you can also see when articles will fall, such as on a holiday.

Resources

Of course there isn’t a right or wrong way to do a content calendar. You just need to plan ahead if you are going to get better at your blogging, and be intentional about it all.

There are a number of plugins and resources out there to help you get where you want to go. Here are a few:

Editorial Calendar

This is a great WordPress plugin, and I use it. It lets me see at a glance what posts are in the pipeline. You can drag and drop posts to different days and set what time of day they will post. Here is a screengrab of how it looks if I go back to July 2014:

Kapost

I’ve never used it, but I read about it on the Buffer blog, and it looks pretty interesting since it lets you identify different content types.

CoSchedule

This is a premium WordPress plugin that allows you to manage social media and blog posts. It’s something I hope to use at some point in the near future. It looks pretty sweet.

Roll Your Own

You can set up an Excel or Google spreadsheet to act as your content/editorial calendar. HubSpot has a nice Blog Editorial Calendar Template.

Personally, right now I am using the free WordPress Editorial Calendar plugin that I mentioned above, and the free version of SocialOomph to manage my blog-specific tweets using the social media checklist that I wrote about recently. That being said, a spreadsheet would probably be a good idea, but I’m not really a spreadsheet guy.

Take a Deep Breath.

Now, take a deep breath, and walk around the block. Now that you’re back, sit down and think about what you’re going to do for your content calendar. At the very least, establish a regular posting schedule so people can come to expect something of you, and so you can expect something of yourself!

Once you find a rhythm, you’ll be able to spot what types of content you create and putting it on a schedule can make things easier for you in the long run.

What about you, have you used a content calendar before? What has helped you the most about it? I’d love to hear from you about your experience with content calendars, especially for artists.

PS: You might want to also go back and check my checklist for writing blogs and scheduling social media, as well as Buffer’s much more comprehensive Complete Guide to Choosing a Content Calendar: Tools, Templates, Tips, and More.

Let me know how it goes!